Don't be chicken; try Riesling says Bill Daley

What says summer more than a platter of hot, just-off-the-grill chicken legs slathered in smoky, spicy barbecue sauce and paired with a chilled bottle or two of a crisp white wine? Make that white a riesling. You'll get a dry, lively flavor that can take the saucy heat and an intriguing aroma.

Riesling is one of the most versatile food wines ever created, the pros all agree. You can pour it with everything from Thai green curry chicken to trout in a French mushroom cream sauce. But the American public has largely raised its communal nose at the variety, going instead for chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios.

I suspect there are a number of reasons:

1. The riesling grape has its roots in Germany, which for many can conjure up nightmares of tongue-twisting German wine names rendered in heavy Gothic script.

2. Riesling can range from bone dry to very sweet. Most folks fear all rieslings are sweet. Personally, that doesn't bother me. A little (or a lot) of honeyed sweetness can make this spicy, fruity wine explode with countless layers of flavor — apricot, pineapple, mango and peach. But if you don't want the sweet, you don't have to have it.

3. Don't look for the grassy tang of a sauvignon blanc or the buttery plushness of a chardonnay. Rieslings are distinct, original. You have to be a bit daring to try them. The good thing is, because rieslings haven't been very popular in the American market, you can get a lot of quality bang for your buck.

Interestingly, all of this could be changing. Statistics from The Nielsen Co. show riesling has been the fastest-growing white wine sold, both in the number of bottles and dollars spent, over the last year (ending June 26).
Nielsen reports volume sales up 11.5 percent; only pinot noir, a red, scored a greater increase.

What this says to me is simple: Try a riesling today. It's summer, and living is easy. Dare to experiment.

They scored Seven Hills Riesling!
2008 Seven Hills, Columbia Valley: A herbaceous nose translates into something of a grassy flavor. Yet, there's enough soft fruit here to work well with the chicken in barbecue sauce. If anything, the wine tastes sweeter with the chicken. ✭✭ $14

Ask your Cream sales rep about our Rieslings. We have German Rieslings in stock too!

Link to Article

'Cabernet is King at Abeja' according to Sean P. Sullivan

Sean P. Sullivan, blogger of Washington Wine Report: "Cabernet is king at Abeja, but others vie for the crown"

Since Abeja's first release from the 2001 vintage, the winery has established itself as one of Washington’s premier producers of Cabernet Sauvignon - the 'King of Grapes.' While the winery also makes limited bottlings of Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier – which are also consistently standouts that demand attention – Abeja's mission is Cabernet Sauvignon, which accounts for the majority of its production.

Among the many things to look forward to following any great vintage, such as 2007, are the releases from the best wineries. While almost across-the-board high quality fruit guarantees excellent wines from numerous producers, great vintages are where the best wineries shine and create something truly special. Abeja's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was therefore a wine to be anticipated.

Winemaker John Abbott has seventeen years of experience making wine in Washington State and says that 2007 stands as one of the finest vintages during this time period. Abbott says of the vintage, “It is my second favorite vintage behind 1999 since I started making wine in Washington in 1993. The 2007 reds have big structure but still have finesse.”

With great vintages, sometimes everything comes a bit more slowly. Patience is required. Abbott says, “I found that the Cabernet took longer to reach flavor maturity on the vine, longer in the fermenter to achieve the balance we look for before pressing, longer to age in the barrel, and a bit longer to show bottle bouquet after bottling.”

Despite this - in fact because of it - the 2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine worthy of both patience and anticipation. Still tightly wound, the wine shows itself slowly but powerfully with smoke, brambly berries, and bittersweet chocolate. The palate is rich and intense with layer upon layer of fruit. Drinking well now, the wine promises years of cellaring potential and is easily among the best Cabernets from the 2007 vintage.

Though drinking the 2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon may feel a bit like opening one of the last presents on Christmas day, fear not. Abeja will be releasing its 2007 Reserve Cabernet this fall. Only made in select years – thus far 2002 and 2005 – this wine is 100% Cabernet made from the winery’s best barrels. A bit farther in the future, the winery will be releasing its first estate Cabernet next spring, which comes from the 2008 vintage.

While Abeja has made its name with Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery also recently received high praise for its 2008 Estate Syrah in the form of a 95-point rating from Wine Spectator. This puts the winery in rare company of those from Washington with wines that have received a ‘Classic’ rating from the publication. Can a Cabernet Sauvignon focused winery remain so while showing so much success with other varietals? Time will tell, but the king should sleep lightly.

Ask your sales reps about:
Abeja 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Abeja 2007 Chardonnay
Abeja 2008 Chardonnay

Palmina Barbera featured on the Today Show

Joe Bastianich, restaurateur and winemaker, showed Palmina Barbera as a great pairing to a classic Pomodoro Sauce on the Today Show.

Paul Gregutt writes about L'Ecole 2009 Walla Voila Chenin Blanc

Wine in the spotlight: L'ecole 2009 Walla Voila Chenin Blanc

One of the grapes widely planted during the 1970s-era expansion of Washington vineyards was chenin blanc. By and large these vineyards went into to most fertile Yakima valley and Columbia basin sites, were heavily watered, and produced large crops. The chenin blancs that resulted were off-dry, fruity and simple, quaffable white wines with no aspirations to the greatness of which the grape is capable.

Chenin blanc from the Loire valley in particular is as versatile as the greatest rieslings. It produces complex, ageworthy wines, in a full spectrum from bone dry to achingly sweet. Honey, flowers, stone and herbal elements combine with the stone fruits that are the core of these wines. Vouvrays have a tangy tension, a lovely dance of sugar and acid, that makes them especially vivid.

Why then can’t Washington chenins rise to such heights? Well, I’m not certain that they can’t. But economics – basically the price that consumers are willing to pay for a bottle of chenin blanc – trickle back to the price that winemakers can pay to growers, and have kept the wines as cheap and cheerful as ever, while production figures have sharply declined.

It’s a self-feeding downward spiral, much like that which until recently has confined Washington rieslings to the role of entry-level, tasting room pours. For riesling to break free of such limitations has taken over a decade of hard work, the collaboration of global authorities such as Ernst Loosen, and a quality push from visionary leaders, notably Allen Shoup (Long Shadows), Ted Baseler (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates), and Nicolas Quillé (Pacific Rim).

Poor old chenin has no such prospects. But one wine consistently proves the potential. L’Ecole No 41 has been producing a chenin blanc with the playful name of Walla Voila since 1987. Around 1500 cases have been made annually, modeled on Vouvray, but with the brightness of Washington fruit.

The grapes come exclusively from a Rattlesnake Hills vineyard planted in 1979. The Walla Voila has been getting progressively drier with each vintage, benefiting from improved vineyard management, which allows for more delicate aromas of honeysuckle, and flavors of lime, sweet lemon, orange and pineapple.

The newest version, from the 2009 vintage, ramps up production to over 2500 cases, and drops the price to $14. This is just one percent residual sugar and 13.5% alcohol, with lush, fruit-driven aromas that capture the complexity of the grape – rarely seen in domestic chenin blancs. Ripe apples, spice, hints of honey and caramel, and a lovely, persistent floral overtone are some of the highlights.

All of the white wines from L’Ecole are fragrant, fruitful, and fresh. But I am especially fond of this Walla Voila, because it offers clear proof that chenin blanc need not be relegated to also-ran status in the U.S.

Terrific Washington State Reds

Written by Ray Isle for Food&Wine Magazine

I tasted 105 Washington State red wines for this column, and choosing the wines listed here proved one of the most difficult selections I’ve ever had to make. Across the board, quality was remarkably high, and in the case of some wineries—Andrew Will, Cadence, Pepper Bridge—every single wine I tasted was first-rate. That’s a rare result for any tasting, and a testimony to how exciting Washington state wines are right now. And although these wines aren’t inexpensive (some are quite pricey), the best offer quality equal to top reds from California’s star regions, often at about half the price.

Washington’s wine regions mostly lie in the flat, rural, southeastern part of the state (the miniscule Puget Sound appellation, with a mere 80 acres of vineyards, is the lone exception). The largest by far is the Columbia Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), which covers almost 11 million acres, nearly a third of the state. Other AVAs are much smaller—for instance, Red Mountain, an up- and-coming source for some of the state’s best Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, covers just 4,040 acres.

While Washington produces an abundance of both red and white wines, including some of the country’s best Rieslings, its growing reputation is based on its reds. Generally speaking, Washington’s Cabernets tend to be less full-bodied than their California counterparts, with more red than black fruit character: Think Modigliani rather than Rubens. Washington’s Syrahs often have a peppery gaminess that recalls France’s northern Rhône instead of the sweet, dense fruit that warmer climates give. And the state is arguably the best source in the U.S. for Merlot—top Washington Merlots have a spicy complexity and lush depth that, if the world were fair, would negate the sad reputation this grape has been saddled with over the past few years.

Star Selections
2005 Owen Roe Sinister Hand
Washington's Horse Heaven Hills region has a climate similar to that of France's Chateauneuf-du-Pape, helping to give this Grenache-based red blend loads of peppery, dark cherry flavor. 
2005 Tamarack Cellars Columbia Valley Merlot
Merlot sourced from some of the state's top vineyards, like Seven Hills and Tapteil, is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec to make this streamlined, berry-rich red.

Ask your sales rep about Cream's Washington Wines

Vine Connections Brings Line of Affordable, Sustainable and Socially Responsible Wines to U.S.

Vine Connections, the leading national U.S. importer of fine Argentine wines, announces the re-introduction of Budini, a line of affordably-priced wines sourced from Mendoza. 

“The wines are styled for everyday drinking with ripe fruit character, excellent structure with fine and perfectly mature tannins, and are affordably priced."

Budini stands for “Built Upon Dreams of Individuals Not Institutions” and promotes the well-being of its workers, sustainable farming, and future generations of winemakers. A portion of sales proceeds will go towards the Dominio del Plata Scholarship Foundation that is dedicated to providing educational opportunities for the children of winery worker families throughout Argentina. These scholarships cover tuition and fees for college-bound students, which are granted based on grades and the family’s economic situation.

“We’ve spent the last 11 years working closely with Argentina’s top winemakers and wineries, and plan to be there for decades more. So we’re very excited to re-launch the Budini brand not only because of the wine’s continuing quality and value to consumers, but also for the opportunity we now have to give back directly to the local community in Mendoza. Our donations will help students get an education, provide milk to local soup kitchens, and even outfit a local soccer team,” said Ed Lehrman, co-founder of Vine Connections.

Argentina has built a reputation over the last decade as an incubator for young, up-and-coming winemakers who are bringing new energy to the region with their innovative approaches and winemaking skills. Budini’s new winemaker, José Lovaglio, is one of these rising stars. Born and raised in Argentina, Lovaglio is a third generation winemaker from one of Mendoza’s most respected winemaking families. A graduate of U.C. Davis, José worked in China as a sommelier before moving back to Argentina to start his winemaking career. “The wines are styled for everyday drinking with ripe fruit character, excellent structure with fine and perfectly mature tannins, and are affordably priced at $13 a bottle,” says Lovaglio.

“We’re thrilled that José has joined the Budini team. Not only is he a tremendous winemaker for such a young guy but he is also committed to the Budini ideals: sustainability, social responsibility and scholarship,” adds Nick Ramkowsky, co-founder of Vine Connections.

The current release wines are the 2009 Budini Malbec and 2009 Budini Chardonnay. Fruit for both wines is sourced from sustainably-farmed, high elevation vineyards (avg 2,800 ft) located in several areas in Mendoza Province.

Vine Connections is set apart from most importers by its extensive Argentine wine portfolio of native Argentine winemakers. The company is the exclusive importer of highly praised and sought after wines that include Añoro, BenMarco, Budini, Crios, La Posta, Luca, mapema, Mendel, Nosotros, Reginato, Susana Balbo Signature Wines, and Tikal. They work with some of Argentina’s leading winemakers and viticulturists including Susana Balbo, Roberto de la Mota, Laura Catena, Luis Reginato, Pepe Galante, Mariano di Paola, and Ernesto Catena.\

Link to Article

Interview with Laura Catena

Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza, Argentina

This San Francisco physician is one of the leading figures on the Argentine wine scene.
Article written by Catherine Fallis, MS
I've known Laura Catena for years through the wine industry and see her fairly often, since we live near each other in San Francisco. She leaves as much a of a lasting impression as the wines produced by her Argentine family. She is obviously passionate about the varied aspects of her life, with wine, medicine and family topping the list. Everything she does is carefully planned out far in advance. This is a reflection of the influence of her father, Nicolas, but also of her medical training: she is an emergency room obstetrician/gynecologist at UCSF Medical Center and is as meticulous in her research of medical subjects as she is with wine-related issues. The wines of Catena Zapata have a loyal following not only at UCSF but at top restaurants around the United States and the world.

Q: You have on of the more interesting educational backgrounds in the wine industry. How did your various passions develop, and how is your time divided among family, medicine and winemaking these days?
A: I grew up in Argentina and then finished high school in Berkeley, California. Then I went to Havard University. I had spent a lot of time in high school in France and when I was 14, I spent an entire summer studying art by myself, living with a family, taking the subway all over Paris. So I was much more of a humanities-oriented person, but when I got to Harvard, the science was so interesting that I decided to study biology.
Q:Did your father try to talk you into working in the wine business?
A: When I was in my early 20s in medical school, my dad and I would get together and drink through all the great wine in the worls. He would always ask my questions about how Americans would respond to something or asky my opinion about labels. It was always this sort of informal advice I would give him, because I was living here. So by the time I was in my late 20s, I had finished my residency, and my family needed someone to go to a wine show. With my personality, I started thinking, "Well, why aren't they doing this?" and "I saw this really interesting think they're doing in California or in France; why aren't we doing this in Argentina?" I started getting involved because I felt like I needed to help my dad. Now, for the last five years, I work part-time as a doctor and then spend about four months in Argentina and the rest traveling to other parts of the world.
Q: How has medicine affected your winemaking?
Medicine is what brings me down to earth. When you're working in a business, you're always looking at the cost of this, the cost of that, the profit, the sales numbers. When I go to the hospital, I see people suffering and how, in the end, none of this is that important-it is each humand and what we can do for our neighbors, our family, the people we see in the coffee shop.
I spend a lot of my time reading journals, staying up-to-date in medicine, because in medicine, you have to. But that actually helps me in wine, too, because our winery is very rigorous with people. If somebody says, "I want to use this yeast or this rootstock-I don't want to use SO4, I want to use Paulsen," I say, "Oka, why?" They give me a reason and I say, "I need more than that. Tell me the experience in Australia, in South Africa, in Chile and in Europe. They all have different soils. Ours is probably more similar to Washington state. What is the rootstock in Washington state?" And everybody is shocked that I'm asking all these questions, but I'm trained to make a decision based on true information. I don't take an answer lightly; I think a lot before doing something. The other think medicine teaches you is "I don't know." In medicine, you never say you know something when you don't, whereas I think that in the business world, there's a lot of bluffing.
Q: How did the family enterprise expand into the Luca and Tikal lines?
Luca is my own project that I started in 1998 (the first vintage was 1999). I was convinced that great wines could be made from old-vine grower grapes, because over 40% of Mendoza's vineyards are owned by small, multigenerational families with less than 12 acres of land. Nobody else believed this in Argentina. So I spent one season driving around Mendoza and tasting grapes and making deals with growers. Today, I truly believe that we are making some of Mendoza's best wines from these gorgeous old vineyards, which, in the past, had been selling their grapes in bulk.
Tikal is my brother Ernesto's project, which he manages independently. His Patriota was the first high-priced Bonarda-Malbec to make waves in the U.S. I love his wines. He uses some grower grapes, but also has a gorgeous vineyard in the southern Uco Valley named Tikal.
Q: What are Argentina's strengths and weaknesses in terms of marketing to Americans, especially the restaurant trade? 
The strength is really the fact that we provide good value. People who put our wine on the list do well with their customers. The weakness is potentially that a lot of people still don't know about Argentina, so somebody might not order the wine because they've never heard of it. I think that is really changing, though. The exchange-rate crisis made it a lot cheaper to visit, and more people come back and tell their friends to try Argentine wines. In 2008, Argentine wine exports to the U.S. grew by 30% and in 2009, by 20%. Argentine Malbec is the fastest-growing wine import to the U.S. today. How do you explain that? to me, it is the quality, plus the fact that it's become known. My mother-in-law is from Iowa, and she used to say, "Why is it that everybody is always talking about Chilean wine and nobody's talking about Argentine wine?" That was five years ago. Now, she's sending me articles all the time about Argentine wine.
Q: How would you advise American sommeliers to use your own wines?
A: People are willing to experiement, so if you list a Malbec or Torrontes by the glass, you're encouraging people to try that, and this could be their introduction to Argentine wine. I think consumers love a restaurant that gives them something new that tastes spectacular-an ace in the hole.  

Drink Pink - Blog by Liz Mendez

Gorgeous days call for drinking pink. And let’s be clear that doesn’t just mean summer (as a wine comrade and I always muse “January is a perfect season for rosé”), but with beautiful weather and barbeques upon us, we must get our pink on.

The color of rosé gets a bad rap from our white zinfandel “friends” who gave us blush wine, but this isn’t Aunt Jane’s sweet, pink juice … and thanks to the wine lords for that (thanks Bacchus and Meditrina, you two rock!). I’m not here to entice you with the technicalities of rosé; you can look that up here. I am here to share a one stop shop rosé for the weekend and the rest of the summer that is not to be missed.

We all know about Murphy’s Law, where “if it can go wrong it will” but there is nothing going wrong with the Murphy’s Law wines
. Murphy’s Law is made by Owen Roe winemaker David O’Reilly, who has a deft hand in showcasing all the glory the Pacific Northwest has to offer. And in a world where most American rosés don’t deliver the best pink goods, the 2008 vintage of Murphy’s Law rosé gives pink a good name.

Being Murphy’s Law (and David O’Reilly) the 2008 vintage uses grapes from Washington and Oregon (and if you can, why not use grapes from both states) but these grapes aren't all of your usual suspects from these two fine growing wine worlds. The predominant grape is Counoise (COON-wahz), one that you don’t hear much about, allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and usually not seen outside the Rhône. Other than a bit of Grenache and Blaufränkisch (another grape to keep your palates peeled for, considering this article), the rest of the 2008 Murphy’s Law consists of Pinot Noir, which makes sense given Mr. O’Reilly's success with the grape. Yeah, yeah, yeah… it's rosé (and American rosé at that) … so how does it taste? Holy juicy plums and spices this is good! A perfect balance of strawberries, plums and spice is complemented by a crisp and lively acidity that dances on the palate.

Why this rosé? It gives you all the perfect nuances of the reds you love (and ones you’ll learn to love), delivers an acidity to act as an aperitif and plays nice with food. From pork, vegetables, cheese, and chicken there is no reason you should not immediately begin to drink this pink. Cheers!

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